Ethics and Integrity First: Jeff Sessions must go

March 3, 2017

Ethics and Integrity First: Jeff Sessions must go

by Richard W. Painter

In the wake of Wednesday’s revelation that Attorney-General Jeff Sessions spoke with Russia’s Ambassador to the United States while working with the Trump campaign, despite denying those contacts during his confirmation hearings, key Republican and Democratic lawmakers are calling for him to recuse himself from overseeing any Justice Department investigation into contacts between the campaign and the Russian government. Some are even saying he needs to resign.

It’s a bombshell of a story. And it’s one with a clear and disturbing precedent.

Image result for Aristotle Quotes on Ethics

Jeff Sessions–Get the Message and Resign–Integrity in High Office is Non-Negotiable. This is not Politics. Its Integrity and Responsibility, President Donald J. Trump, not Loyalty.

In 1972 Richard G. Kleindienst, the acting Attorney-General, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee in a confirmation hearing on his nomination by President Richard Nixon to be Attorney-General. He was to replace Attorney-General John N. Mitchell, who had resigned in disgrace and would later be sent to prison in the Watergate scandal.

Several Democratic Senators were concerned about rumors of White House interference in a Justice Department antitrust suit against International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation, a campaign contributor to the Republican National Committee. They asked Kleindienst several times if he had ever spoken with anyone at the White House about the I.T.T. case. He said he had not.

That wasn’t true. Later, after Kleindienst was confirmed as attorney general, the special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, and his team uncovered an Oval Office tape recording of a phone call in which Nixon told Kleindiesnt to drop the I.T.T. case. Kleindienst claimed that he thought the senators’ questions were limited to a particular period, not the entire time during which the case was pending.

Jaworski didn’t buy it. He filed criminal charges against Kleindienst, who was forced to resign as attorney general. Eventually Kleindienst pleaded guilty to failure to provide accurate information to Congress, a misdemeanor, for conduct that many observers believed amounted to perjury. He was also reprimanded by the Arizona State Bar.

Image result for Senator Al Franken

Last month, during Mr. Sessions’s confirmation hearing for attorney general, Senator Al Franken, Democrat from Minnesota, asked Mr. Sessions what he would do if he learned of evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of the 2016 campaign.

“I’m not aware of any of those activities,” Mr. Sessions answered, adding, “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign, and I did not have communications with the Russians.”

Mr. Sessions also, on his written Senate confirmation questionnaire, denied having had any communications about the 2016 election with the Russians.

We now know that Mr. Sessions had at least two conversations with the Russian Ambassador to the United States in July and September 2016 while Mr. Sessions was an adviser to the Trump campaign.

Once again, we see an Attorney-General trying to explain away misleading testimony in his own confirmation hearing. A spokeswoman for Mr. Sessions says that “there was absolutely nothing misleading” about his answer because he did not communicate with the ambassador in his capacity as a Trump campaign surrogate. His contacts with the Russian ambassador, he claims, were made in his capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

That may or may not have been the case (individual senators ordinarily do not discuss committee business with ambassadors of other countries, particularly our adversaries). Regardless, Mr. Sessions did not truthfully and completely testify. If he had intended to say that his contacts with the Russians had been in his capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and not for the Trump campaign, he could have said that. He then would have been open to the very relevant line of questioning about what those contacts were, and why he was unilaterally talking with the ambassador of a country that was a longstanding adversary of the United States.

He did not reveal the communications at all, however. He did so knowing that Senator Franken was asking about communications with the Russians by anyone working for the Trump campaign, including people who, like Mr. Sessions, had other jobs while they volunteered for the Trump campaign. Mr. Sessions’ answer was at best a failure to provide accurate information to Congress, the same conduct that cost Attorney General Kleindienst his job.

And this time, unlike in 1972, the Attorney-General’s misleading testimony involves communications not with the president of the United States, but with a rival nuclear superpower. In 1972, any federal employee who provided such inaccurate information under oath about communications with the Russians would have been fired and had his or her security clearances revoked immediately, and probably also would have been criminally prosecuted.

The Cold War may be over, but Russia in the past few years has once again sought to destabilize the democratic process not only in the United States, but also in much of Europe. Russian support for Communist parties is gone, but Russian support for far right and nationalist movements globally is on the rise, as is Russian spying.

President Trump has already fired his National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, for misleading Vice-President Pence about his conversations with the Russians. Misleading the United States Senate in testimony under oath is at least as serious. We do not yet know all the facts, but we know enough to see that Attorney General Sessions has to go as well.

Richard W. Painter, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, was the chief White House ethics lawyer from 2005 to 2007.


15 thoughts on “Ethics and Integrity First: Jeff Sessions must go

  1. He has done nothing wrong
    You either a cynic or an unprincipled individual. Mr. Sessions lied under oath and that is perjury in my book. He lied to the Judiciary Committee of the US Senate. And this is lying to the American people.–Din Merican.

    • Mr. Sessions lied under oath and that is perjury in my book. He lied to the Judiciary Committee of the US Senate. And this is lying to the American people.

      Oaths may have no value as there is no visible punishment by the Almighty and have become more a formality and the PLEDGES HAVE BECOME NOTHING MORE THAN SLOGANS.

      TL Man may neither be cynic or unprincipled but one who sees things as they are which may be a reality.

      In the case of those who go to court it is evident that some may be lying under oath but ultimately the winner will be with the best documents-best lawyer and most money at disposal to pay for legal fees for cases which may be extended for years by postponements or appeals [money could be own or trust funds such as shareholders/organizations].
      And I am not a cynic but say what is observed and does not apply to any specific religions but a common perception.

  2. Ethics and Integrity First: Jeff Sessions must go

    How many politicians have ‘Ethics and Integrity’ ?

    If this criteria was to be applied around the world then may be all politicians must go as it is a rare politician who has has or follows Ethics and/or Integrity values.

    Sadly it may have become an accepted culture worldwide to have people in positions of power even when some may have been suspected of having being involved in fraud-corruption-bribery-kickbacks-collusion-cronyism-nepotism practises and thus may be without Ethics-Integrity-Honesty. Those in power may include not only politicians but also those in control of billions ot Trust Funds as in other sectors [corporate-religions-charities-NGOs-societies-sports-world bodies [UN-others].

    I normally advise participants of my training seminars that they should commence their duties to MANAGE-AUDIT-MONITOR with the ASSUMPTION THAT THERE ARE RISKS OF ‘MISMANAGEMENT-FRAUD-CORRUPTION-COLLUSION-CRONYISM-BRIBERY-KICKBACKS-NEPOTISM RISKS and then proceed to ensure that the above risks are not there.

  3. That is what happens when they cry wolf from the day President Trump announced that he was going to run for the High Office. The wolf is finally there and many have become skeptical. Now they have to allow the issue to run unti it runs out of steam. In any case if they want the AG to resign they must come out with specifics. The question he answered under oath itself was non specific. And there was no follow up questions to that non specific question. In any case it is difficult to come to any conclusion until he is prosecuted. He may be guilty in the court of public opinion but in a court of law there are more strict rules on evidence.

  4. Every day when we walk in the streets, we may have bumped into ordinary looking people who may be murderers, rapists, etc, but not caught. You cannot spot a murderer, rapist just by looking.

    The point therefore is that if any person wishing to or holding high office is even suspected of any wrong-doing which points to a fatal character flaw which may compromise his handling of any public interest matter, he or she should not hold or be allowed to hold such an office.

    It is silly to say “He has done nothing wrong” Do we actually have to wait for him to do something wrong first when there are already indications he lied under oath? Lying under oath is a “wrong” If he is willing to do that, what he would not do when not under oath?

  5. Quote:- “The question he answered under oath itself was non specific. And there was no follow up questions to that non specific question”

    Here we are talking about an official appointment important enough to seek Congress’s approval.

    You mean someone must “specifically” ask him during the Congress hearings, did you or did you not speak with the Russian ambassador regarding such and such an issue?

    If he had answered “no”, not because he did not speak to the Russian ambassador, but because he did not speak about “such and such an issue”, he “no” answered would still be correct wouldn’t it?

    The issue here is did he meet with the Russian ambassador. He, (assuming not having any guilty conscience), could have answered “yes”, and then go on to explain what the occasion was, what issues were discussed because meeting any Russian official by itself carries no negative connotation if done openly.

    He did not do that. He hid a material fact under oath, and by any rule of evidence that is culpable at least to the extend of questioning his integrity and suitable for high office. His giving an answer / explanation now can be just afterthought.

    The AG post of the US is too critical. In fact just look at the crucial post of AG in our own small country which, whatever we do, does not impact the World as much as the US of A.

  6. Any one who knows American politics can tell how much trouble a Washington politician is in by how forcefully his/her allies push back in the immediate aftermath of a bombshell negative story. By that measure, Jeff Sessions is in big, big trouble.

    Leading Republicans are very hesitant to put themselves anywhere near to defend Sessions. Jason Chaffetz, the Utah Republican who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, tweeted Thursday morning that Sessions must recuse himself from the ongoing FBI investigation into Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 election and “clarify” his testimony to the Judiciary Committee. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio has also called for Sessions to recuse himself. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a 2016 presidential candidate, went a step further. And so did Sen. Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina.

    The best hope Sessions has in all of this is his close relationship with Orange Trump. But, Trump also hates when people who work for him get bad press, as his eventual decision to fire national security adviser Michael Flynn suggests, loyalty has its limits. Loyalty is meant for others towards him, and not him towards others. He is the emperor, remember?

    Did Sessions do something wrong? Of course he did. Did he lie to the Congress and committed perjury? Of course he did. That’s why he bowed to pressure and said he would recuse himself from any federal probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. And that’s why many of his Republican friends not backing him up. When you lose your friends while under heavy fire from your opponents in political Washington, it’s almost always curtains. Recusal is not enough. He must resign.

    In any case, with Sessions’ recusal and the barrier of the Attorney General Office out of the picture, it is one big step forward to the formation of the independent committee for investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. It’s one small step toward the impeachment of Comrade Trumpski under treason.

    • Yes, probable acts of treason is much more serious than Clinton’s lying about sexual encounters with a White House intern.

  7. The United States has diplomatic relation with Russia. Russia may have done things that US strongly disagrees, but Russia is not yet an enemy of US.

    Since when we come to think American’s contact with Russians must be viewed with suspicion? What FBI, a law enforcement agency, considers suspicious during a lawful investigation must not be viewed as guilty or almost-guilty by the public who just happens to receive the leaked information.

    A Cold War’s Soviet Union should be treated with suspicion because Communism was found to have fatal attraction to many including some in the US government. A Russia stripped of ideology comparable to Communism does not pose existential threat to the US, and American’s contacts with Russians should not received such as headline as in this NYT.

    We are making a mountain out of a mole hill.

  8. Both may be doing everything for personal interest so take with a pinch of salt whatever they say.
    Politicians may be perceived as those who are rarely known to have values including honesty-ethics-integrity.
    Accept this and adjust with this reality and culture as it may be international and all types of governments. Alternative could be something one may not want.

  9. The easy way for all concerned is for him to resign. In this case intervention by ouside forces in the elections does not matter unless it is shown that it was done at the behest of the Republican Team. Perception is like watering a plant called rality. In the event you have too much purception it will kill the plant.

  10. “Since when we come to think American’s contact with Russians must be viewed with suspicion?”

    Straw man fallacy.

    There is nothing unusual about meetings between presidential campaigns and foreign diplomats. Russian Ambassador Kislyak was one of several envoys at the Republican National Convention, where his first meeting with Sessions was a brief encounter after a panel organized by the Heritage Foundation. Ambassadors also attended the Democratic convention, though it was not clear whether Kislyak was among them.

    The trouble in Sessions’s case is that his meeting came as the nation’s intelligence agencies were concluding that Russia had tried to destabilize the election and help Trump. Sessions’s initial lack of disclosure of the meetings with Kislyak fed suspicions that it was more than run-of-the-mill diplomacy.

    While under oath during his confirmation hearing Sessions lied that he had never met with the Russian government, but government officials confirmed that he did. This is the main issue here — he committed perjury.

  11. Such deep discussions should be reserved for issues that have financial implications. All citizens should be allowed to think aloud to allow for smooth implementation of policies. To hold one responsible for what He say at the formative stages of policy making is what is wrong in governments today.

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